The Empty Space

by Michael R. Allen

The built environment tends to absorb trauma. Buildings, after all, endure countless abuses and serve as the settings for every possible pain a human being can endure. They keep standing through small fires and murders, gaining some new store of anguish with each event. When they are torn apart, their stored energies do not rapidly dissipate but become a part of whatever replaces them. This energy is no supernatural force, but rather is the inscribed force of historical and semiotic memory. People keep this energy alive through their responses to changes in the built environment. People remember changes in facades, storefronts, and so forth. People also strongly remember things that eventually disappear. Nothing so powerfully invokes the iconic recollection of a building than a visit to its site when it is gone. The mind projects the building as more than just a structure then; the building’s placement in the web of the individual memory is evident and gives the site continued power to terrify, astound or sadden. Yet the empty space itself cannot be said to embody any of the memories or to signify any of the history.

– Excerpt from my essay “From 0 to 1,776” (Omnitectural Forum, October 9, 2004)

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